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How long will I be down after knee surgery?

If you are considering knee surgery, one of the biggest questions on your mind is likely “How long will recovery take?”. The answer depends on a variety of factors including the type of surgery, your age, health status, and adherence to recovery protocols. In general, you can expect to be “down” for 1-3 months after a major knee procedure.

Types of Knee Surgery

There are several different types of knee surgery, each with different recovery timelines:

  • Arthroscopic surgery – Small incisions are made to insert a tiny camera and surgical tools to trim or repair tissue. Recovery is usually 1-3 weeks.
  • Meniscal surgery – To repair or remove damaged meniscus cartilage. Recovery is 1-6 weeks.
  • ACL reconstruction – Replaces torn anterior cruciate ligament with a graft. Recovery takes 3-6 months.
  • Total knee replacement – Damaged knee is resurfaced with metal and plastic implants. Recovery takes 3-6 months.

As you can see, recovery time really depends on the specific procedure. In general, minor arthroscopic surgeries require shorter down times while major reconstructions require longer recovery.

Factors Affecting Recovery Time

Several factors impact how long it will take to recover from knee surgery:

Type of Surgery

As outlined above, complex reconstructions require longer recovery times than minor repairs. ACL reconstruction may take 3-6 months while a meniscal trim may only need 1-3 weeks.

Age of Patient

Younger patients generally recover more quickly from orthopedic surgery than older patients. Bones and soft tissues heal more rapidly when you are younger. Patients over 50 may need 50% more recovery time than younger adults undergoing the same procedure.

Health Status

Patients who are otherwise healthy, fit, and active before surgery tend to bounce back more quickly. Underlying conditions like diabetes, obesity, or heart/lung disease can delay healing. Getting as healthy as possible before surgery helps speed recovery.

Adherence to Rehab

Closely following postoperative protocols and completing physical therapy diligently allows patients to return to activities sooner. Lack of adherence to rehab guidelines often results in slower progress.

Recovery Phases

While each patient will progress at their own pace, general recovery from major knee surgery follows distinct phases:

1. Early Post-op (0-2 weeks)

The first 1-2 weeks focus on pain and swelling control. You will need to keep your leg elevated, use ice/compression, and take medication as needed. Crutches are used for protected weight bearing. Exercises focus on early mobility and range of motion.

2. Intermediate Recovery (2 weeks – 2 months)

Swelling subsides, range of motion improves, and walking progresses during this phase. Crutches are discontinued once an adequate gait is achieved. Exercises strengthen the knee and improve flexibility. By 8 weeks, daily activities can usually be performed independently.

3. Advanced Rehabilitation (2+ months)

Exercises are advanced to continue building strength and endurance. Sports-specific training and light impact activities may begin around 3 months. Full recovery and clearance for sports is generally achievable between 6-9 months for younger athletes after ACL reconstruction.

Recovery Timeline

Use this general timeline as a guide for major knee surgery recovery. Timeframes should be adjusted based on your specific procedure and circumstances.

Phase Activities Potential Milestones
1-2 weeks Elevation, ice, pain medication
Crutches for walking
Early mobility and range of motion exercises
Able to perform small movements without significant pain
2-6 weeks Wean off crutches
Progress range of motion and strengthening
Begin walking longer distances
Walk independently without crutches
Drive short distances
6-12 weeks Advance flexibility and strength training
Begin leg presses and stationary bike
Light impact cardio like swimming or elliptical
Resume normal gait
Walk reasonable distances
Regain confidence in knee
3-6 months Sport-specific drills
Higher impact exercises like jogging
Transition to home exercise program
Return to work full duty
Participate in preferred sports

Tips for Smooth Recovery

Follow these tips to help expedite your knee surgery recovery:

  • Closely adhere to all postoperative instructions provided by your surgeon.
  • Complete physical therapy exercises diligently at home.
  • Stick to weight bearing, range of motion, and activity guidelines.
  • Follow RICE principles – rest, ice, compression, and elevation.
  • Communicate regularly with your care team and ask questions.
  • Ensure you have adequate support at home.
  • Maintain a positive attitude.


The length of recovery following knee surgery varies substantially based on the procedure performed. In general, you can expect to be “down” for 1-3 months after major knee reconstruction. Factors like your age, health status, and adherence to rehab impact your timeline as well. While recovery is a long road, closely following your surgeon’s advice and diligently performing physical therapy can help you return to activity as swiftly as possible. Be patient with the process and you will be back on your feet before you know it.